1,200 friends, family gather to celebrate life of Winnipeg hockey legend, Ab McDonald

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/09/2018 (1609 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS McDonald's family, wearing Winnipeg Jets Jerseys with his name on the back, leave the memorial celebration.

Laughter, light-hearted stories and 1,200 people singing the last verse of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ The Hockey Song gave Ab McDonald a sendoff and tribute worthy of a hockey legend Tuesday.

CBC sportscaster Scott Oake hosted the celebration of life for McDonald — the former NHL and Winnipeg Jets star who died Sept. 4 at age 82 — before a standing room-only crowd in a banquet hall at the Canad Inns Polo Park.

At the end of the nearly two-hour event, family members (donning No. 14 Jets jerseys, with McDonald emblazoned on the back) joined in as longtime friend and former NHLer Jim Benzelock led the crowd in an a capella version of the Connors classic.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Alvin 'Ab' McDonald's portrait outside the memorial service of the WInnipeg Jets first Captain Tuesday afternoon at Canad Inns Polo Park.

The room contained a veritable who’s who of Winnipeg’s sports figures, including Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, team co-owner Mark Chipman, former Jets NHL players such as Randy Gilhen, Thomas Steen and Ray Neufeld, numerous former Jets from the WHA era, and former Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Paul Robson.

The Winnipeg-born McDonald (whose given names were Alvin Brian), played in 14 National Hockey League seasons with Montreal, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

He completed his pro hockey career by leading the Jets their inaugural World Hockey Association season in 1972-73 — playing two seasons and 147 games, scoring 29 goals and 41 assists.

Oake, who also played recreational hockey on McDonald’s team for many years on Tuesday afternoons at River Heights Arena, described McDonald as “a boy from Weston who became a legend but remained humble and never forgot his roots.”

“‘Not bad for a guy from Alexander and Quelch.’ That was one of Ab’s favourite expressions,” Oake said, which referred to McDonald’s childhood home in the city’s Weston area.

“Here’s what ‘not bad’ looked like for Ab McDonald: four Stanley Cups, five 20-goal seasons in the NHL — when 20-goal seasons did not grow on trees — the Cup-clinching goal for Chicago in 1961, and the first captain of the Winnipeg Jets to help pave the way for the team this city enjoys today,”

Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame McDonald won four Stanley Cups in consecutive seasons — three with the Montreal Canadiens in 1957-1960 and one with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1960-61.

Ted Foreman, McDonald’s friend for 65 years, said McDonald lived by a creed that included the importance of doing what you love, respecting others, and valuing happiness over possessions.

“Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know. Ab did that in a very quiet fashion,” Foreman said.

A video compilation of photographs of his life on and off the ice, a mixture of funny and poignant, also introduced his wife of 60 years, Pat, their five children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.

A full picture of McDonald’s childhood, youth, life as a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, as well as a hockey player, was painted through stories told by speakers which included friend Jordy Douglas, daughters Lori Koke and Cindy East, granddaughters Brittany and Alyssa McDonald and grandsons Derek and Cody East.

McDonald’s love of music was shared — he played the acoustic guitar at most every family and social gathering he attended — and his guitar was placed at the front of the room along with his Chicago Blackhawks jersey, skates, Sher-Wood hockey stick, a golf club, and an urn containing his ashes.

McDonald was also remembered for playing on the famous “Scooter Line” in Chicago with Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram, and being a linemate of Montreal Canadiens great Jean Béliveau. He was also the first captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967-68.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Ab and his wife Pat in their backyard in west Winnipeg in 2016.

Douglas, part of the Winnipeg Jets Alumni organization, said McDonald was a proud Winnipegger and Manitoban, and was especially proud of “his Winnipeg Jets.”

“I’ll leave you with something Ted Irvine (former NHLer) shared with me about a conversation he had recently with Ab,” Douglas said. “They were talking about life and the mysteries of the universe. Ab’s comment was, ‘A good cigar, a cold beer, my guitar, my lovely wife Pat, my family, all my grandchildren, all my friends, all these wonderful memories, what more could a man ask?’

“Amen, Ab. Amen.”

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 8:45 PM CDT: Adds photo

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